Electronic Arts, the two-time “winner” of the “Worst Company in America” award, has decided to cut off the countries of Iran and Myanmar from accessing their Origin service. In effect, this prevents anyone in those countries from buying or playing any digitally purchased EA games on the PC, or for that matter, getting a refund for games that they can no longer use. Naturally, EA representatives state that due to the existence of embargoes and sanctions against the aforementioned countries, they are legally incapable of doing business there. While EA’s Terms of Service (which you have to agree to if you want to use Origin) technically give them the ability to take away your games in such a manner, the timing of such an event is rather suspicious.
Taken at face value, Electronic Art’s excuse seems to hold some water, at least in Iran’s case. Unsurprisingly, the United States has a long list of sanctions against the country; while more experienced people would probably be able to pick through the documents and determine whether or not EA is making things up for the sake of publicity, a cursory glance and basic understanding of said documents would lead most people to assume that EA is telling the truth (or at least part of it). Of course, assuming that EA is telling the truth, there is the question of why EA decided to wait so long to comply with the law, given that the latest Department of Treasury statement regarding Iran was given at the beginning of the year (and even then, the statement doesn’t seem to pertain to the sale of services).
In Myanmar’s case, however, Electronic Arts does seem to be lying, or at least stretching the truth. While it is true that the United States has had sanctions against Myanmar, President Obama signed an Executive Order that (once again, based on a cursory glance and a basic understanding of said documents) appears to terminate a number of these sanctions. However, in the interest of time and fairness, let us (again) assume that EA is telling the truth regarding their legal inability to do business in Myanmar. Once again, however, the timing of EA’s denial of service is strange, especially given the fact that said Executive Order was signed at the beginning of October.
If we are to assume that both of the above statements are true, (that Electronic Arts is telling the truth in regards to both Iran and Myanmar), this puts EA in a rather strange place. A large number of the sanctions that were put in place were enacted up to two decades ago, if not longer, and even if they didn’t have anything to do with digital services, EA had more than enough time to figure out which countries to launch Origin in. Naturally, this doesn’t exactly look good for EA, since it either points to carelessness or to them exploiting loopholes for the sake of profit. True, none of the other major digital distributors, such as GOG.com, Ubisoft’s Uplay, or Steam, have had such a controversy arise, but most of them aren’t based in the United States either (GOG.com is headquartered in Cyprus, Ubisoft is based in France, and Valve presumably has enough lawyers for them to be based wherever they want).
If we are to assume that Electronic Arts is lying, though, this puts EA in an even stranger place. After all, two of their biggest holiday games (Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2) just came out, and (theoretically) it wouldn’t be that much of an expense to keep Origin running in such countries. This in itself leads to a whole host of other theories, including the possibility that EA is performing so poorly in Iran and Myanmar that they feel like they need to cut their losses (without publicly stating so). There’s plenty of other, slightly crazier theories out there to be sure (actions by Iran and or Myanmar’s government perhaps?), but seeing as how EA is a company that exists primarily for the sake of profit, this seems to be the most likely scenario (barring any strange and outrageous technical problems).
To their credit, Electronic Arts says that they are working to restore service to Myanmar, but frankly, that’s one of the most generic responses possible, given the current situation. That, and this is a rather unprecedented scenario where two entire countries have apparently lost the ability to connect to something on the internet. Even if (and that’s a big if) there is nothing nefarious going on in the background, and everything is as EA says it is, then this brings up even bigger questions about whether or not we can or should accept the fact that buying a game, or really any product or service, no longer means that we actually own it.